Eileen (aka Gram) was 16 years old in 1940. She lived in Coventry, England with her parents, 2 sisters, and 1 brother. This was the year that Germany began regularly bombing Coventry. All my life Gram has told me stories about her father loading the family up into their car at night and driving them out to the middle of the fields outside town, and how they'd spend the night sleeping in the car to escape the bombings. She's told me about her older brother, Jimmy, and how he was a fire watcher who had to stay on the rooftops in town during bombing runs to warn of fires that might spread through the town, and how the rest of the family would worry about him every night. She's also told me about hiding under metal staircases during air raids.
I recently asked her if she ever hid in the bomb shelters and she said no. Her father said they were too dirty and he preferred to take the family into the fields in the fresh air. Gram said the bomb shelters were used by drunks as a place to have sex, and that you could smell the urine from outside - she never went into one.
One night, after sleeping in the fields, Gram's family came home to find an unexploded bomb sitting in the middle of their road. It had a fin that was sticking up into the air. Everyone was excited and touching it. Gram says she realizes now that they were all crazy, that it could have exploded at any moment, but no one seemed to realize that then.
When I heard about the book COVENTRY by Helen Humphreys I knew I had to read it, if only to get a better idea of what Gram went through. After I commented on her review, Amanda offered to send me her copy of the book so I could share it with Gram on her next visit. Aren't bloggers wonderful?
Well, Gram's visit finally came around but things haven't gone as planned. She and my Grandpa were supposed to stay in Maryland for a month and return to Florida in September. Unfortunately, while she was here Gram was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoma and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. She's really struggling with it, and it is, of course, difficult for the rest of the family as well. This woman who was bowling three times a week in August now can hardly sit up at the table for more than a few minutes. But she's been reading when she can, and she was very excited when I brought over COVENTRY for her to try.
I can give no better endorsement to the book than to say that according to Gram, Humphreys got everything right. She would have loved to see her street, Hollyhead Road, mentioned but otherwise she loved this book. In fact, Gram enjoyed the book so much that she gave it to her younger sister when she came to visit; Aunt Hilda read it in 2 days and loved it as well. So if you want to know what it was really like to live in Coventry during World War II, you definitely need to read this book - I'm doing that right now.
I also brought Gram my copy of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. She breezed through that book in just a few days (before starting COVENTRY) and loved it as well. She absolutely loved the character of Elizabeth. Gram doesn't remember hearing anything about Guernsey back during the war; like me, she was completely surprised that the German's occupied the island. She was, however, very familiar with the fact that children were sent away from their families and into the countryside to keep them safe. It didn't happen in her family but she knew that it was happening in others. Gram highly recommends this book as well. Her sister Hilda was planning to get it from the library when she went back home after her visit with Gram.
The book currently on Gram's shelf is THE MIRACLE OF THE NORTH PLATTE CANTEEN. I've had this book for quite a while and have been meaning to read it. As with COVENTRY, Gram is beating me to it. I'll let you know what she thinks about this WWII book as soon as she finishes.